WOW! I’m posting this fiddle tune a day as the LOST Fiddle Tune from Fiddle Tune a Day. Somehow I posted the Video, but I never made a blog post for it…until now.
Say Old Man (Can You Play the Fiddle?) is one of my 5 favorite breakdowns for sure. It’s got a serious attitude, like a breakdown should.
I learned it back when I was in high school – ages ago – from Tony Ludiker, and since then I have molded it and added my own flair to it.
(posted to this blog on 7-28-2014 exactly 2 years late)
Say Old Man According to Fiddler’s Companion
SAY OLD MAN CAN YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE?  See “Oh, Say Old Man Can You Play the Fiddle?” “Ladies Fancy .” Old‑Time, Breakdown. USA; Texas, North Carolina. E Minor (‘A’, ‘B’, ‘E’ and ‘F’ parts) & E Major (‘C’ and ‘D’ parts). Standard or EDae tunings. AABBCCDDEEFF. Often played in the very rare EDae tuning (may be the only tune traditionally in that tuning). Known as a Texas tune. Joe Burke tells the story that Slim Rutland went looking for interesting musicians in the Dallas area and was pointed to Luke Thomasson, Benny Thomasson’s father. He passes on that Gary Lee Moore remembers that “Say Old Man, Can You Play the Fiddle” is the phrase Rutland introduced himself to Thomasson with, and the two spent the weekend working out the tune. Benny Thomasson referred to the tune as “Lady’s Fancy.” There are other versions of the story around. Another (from Mark O’Connor via Stacy Phillips) version has Slim knocking on Benny Thomasson’s door and saying, “I heard you’re the greatest fiddler in the world. Will you play for me?” According to the latter version, Benny taught him a lot of tunes, including “Say Old Man Can You Play the Fiddle” and credited Rutland with being “a great fiddler.” An interesting version from the playing of West Texan Peter Tumlinson Bell, made by Bill Owens in 1941 is in the Owens archive at Texas A&M. Bell’s ancestor and namesake, Peter Tumlinson, was the first captain of the Texas Rangers. Paul Wells notes a relationship between the ‘A’ part of “Say Old Man” and one of the strains of Kentucky fiddler Luther Strong’s version of “Glory at/in the Meetinghouse” (recorded for the Library of Congress in 1937). Sometimes the following is sung as a verse:
Say old man can you play the fiddle?
I don’t know, I might play a little. (Gene Goforth)
Source for notated version: Howard Forrester [Phillips]. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), vol. 2, 1995; pg. 123. Black Rose Productions, The Mando Mafia – “Get Up in the Cool.” County 202, “Eck Robertson (Tx): Famous Cowboy Fiddler.” June Appal 007, Tommy Hunter ‑ “Deep in Tradition” (1976. Learned from his grandfather, fiddler James W. Hunter, Madison County, N.C.). Marimac AHS #3, Glen Smith – “Say Old Man” (1990. Learned from Howdy Forrester). Philo 1023, Jay Ungar & Lyn Hardy ‑ “Songs, Ballads & Fiddle Tunes” (1975. Learned from a tape of Eck Robertson). Rounder CD-0388, Gene Goforth – “Emminence Breakdown” (1997). Voyager CD 345, Benny Thomasson – “Say Old Man, Can You Play the Fiddle?”
SAY OLD MAN, CAN YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE? . Old-Time, Breakdown. E Major/Mixolydian. Standard tuning. ABC (Siberberg): ABB’CC’DD (Phillips). Sources for notated versions: Joey McKenzie [Phillips]; Mel Durham [Silberberg]. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), vol. 2, 1995; pg. 124. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 141.